West Harbour Redevelopment Must Be Inclusive

We need to make sure that Hamilton's revival has long-term positive outcomes for all residents. The West Harbour has to include a maximized social benefit rather than a maximized private profit.

By Matt Jelly
Published March 01, 2016

On the evening of Thursday, February 25, I attended a City of Hamilton information session on the possible future of the West Harbour area as it pertains to four City-owned properties: Pier 8, Barton-Tiffany, and two CityHousing Hamilton properties, the Jamesville Townhouse Complex (92 townhouses) and 500 MacNab North/Kenneth Soble Building (146 units).

West Harbour overhead view (Image Credit: Google Maps)
West Harbour overhead view (Image Credit: Google Maps)

This is what City staff and two councillors proposed at the meeting, on the advice of a consultant's report from Deloitte:

  1. Sell City-owned lands at Pier 8 lands right away to developers

  2. Sell the Jamesville Townhouses and 500 MacNab North to developers, temporarily displacing the current residents to accommodations elsewhere

  3. Use the proceeds of these sales (estimated in the range of $20-40 Million) to replace those CityHousing units in new development in the Barton-Tiffany area (the properties the city bought intended for a West Harbour Stadium)

The residents of Jamesville and 500 MacNab have been surveyed, and the majority of them say they want to stay in the North End neighbourhood. CityHousing Hamilton is required to replace those units at the end of the day, should they be displaced.

Infrastructure Maintenance Deficit

Ward 5 Councillor Chad Collins spent a good portion of the meeting talking about the state of CityHousing Hamilton from a budgetary perspective, as the chair of CHH. CHH has an annual capital budget shortfall of $8 Million, meaning they now have a total maintenance deficit of $50 Million in needed repairs. That shortfall has rendered approximately 100 units apparently unrentable and vacant.

Stepping out of the numbers for a second, you can imagine what a lack of maintenance has meant for residents over the years. I've seen it personally at 500 MacNab North. Five years ago I worked with one of the residents to document and report units that had had their baseboards removed for pest control spraying, then never returned.

In the course of that, residents pointed out a long list of serious issues with their units that had gone unaddressed for quite some time, and we reported it all to bylaw - reporting the City to the City.

The problem with a lack of maintenance is that it multiplies over time and the problems are exponential if not addressed, and this has an added impact considering the needs of the tenants CHH serves.

What I also saw was the problem of segregating all people in need of affordable, accessible, assisted and geared-to-income housing in one spot, largely out of view and easy to ignore. Apartment buildings are neighbourhoods unto themselves and we need to start thinking of them as such, and providing them with proportional resources.

Problem of Priorities

The problems with CityHousing Hamilton are not new. While that $50 Million shortfall has been piling up over the years, the same councillors who spoke to us on Thursday have voted in favour of using $50 Million from the Future Fund for a Stadium, $18 Million for 2 kilometres of road (the Upper Red Hill Parkway Extension), massive spending to service greenfield development around the airport and elsewhere, and yes, in favour of one of their colleagues using infrastructure money to build a $1.7 Million Bocce Court.

In that context, it's hard to accept that the City has been unable to provide CHH with proper sustainable funding. Just 40 extra Frankie Venom statues a year would go a long way to bringing these units up to standard.

To be fair, housing should be a federal and provincial responsibility as well as a municipal one. The decisions of former Ontario Premier Mike Harris in the 1990s placed this responsibility squarely on municipalities, and to this day the current government hasn't done enough to roll that back.

But that's not to let City Hall off the hook either. It's a matter of what we prioritize with our limited municipal budget. You can't tell me that less important things haven't taken top priority.

Fire Sale of Valuable Public Assets

The lands in discussion are currently becoming more and more valuable, year over year. The City-owned lands at Pier 8, when readied for development, will be some of the only assembled harbourfront land in the GHTA.

If and when they're finally remediated, the Barton-Tiffany lands will multiply in value being beside a GO station which may some day have proper full-day service. The Jamesville Townhouses sit on a future LRT spur.

These lands are public assets that will rapidly increase in value for the foreseeable future. Setting my bleeding-heart concerns aside, it should concern anyone that the plan is to do a fire sale of those lands at this point.

Doing so would be yet another massive handover of valuable public assets to private hands. There was no discussion or consideration of keeping the lands publicly owned as we redevelop. Neither was there much consideration of the costs of rehabilitating the current CHH units up to a livable standard, which was shrugged off as too costly.

There was lots of talk of "extracting resources" and "leveraging assets". One has to wonder which developers are waiting in the wings to scoop up the lands at Pier 8, for current market prices, for lands that are guaranteed to multiply in value.

Redevelopment Plan

For one of the exercises at the meeting, we were asked to help improve a very general vision statement for the West Harbour area that had been cobbled together from the many many consultations that have been held over the decades, including the 2005 Setting Sail plan for the area.

We were split up into "groups of no more than two or three" to write down our suggestions for what we felt needed to be in that Vision Statement. The two-paragraph statement was vague, and didn't include a commitment to making the West Harbour area a place where all people can afford to live, so that was the suggestion from my group of three.

The land at Pier 8 has been identified as the most valuable property out of the four parcels. It's clear that the proposed first step is to sell off those lands to developers to build high-end waterfront condos with a scenic view of the harbour, to redevelop Jamesville and 500 MacNab North, and to isolate CityHousing residents in West Harbour, at the bottom of the hill, beside the tracks.

We still don't know the exact cost of remediating these lands after all these years, and the most specific estimate I've ever heard was a range of $3-37 Million (2010 estimate), depending on how (and by whom) the job is conducted. Residential development requires the highest and costliest level of environmental remediation.

The lands can only have residential development 150 metres back from the train tracks, so the strip of land that can be developed as residential is relatively narrow. Barton-Tiffany exists in relative isolation to the surrounding neighbourhood.

I asked Ward 2 Councillor Jason Farr specifically if the plan for Pier 8 was to develop a "luxury enclave" as a friend put it, and whether or not there's a way to include in that development a range of housing to accommodate a wide range of incomes, rather than a monoculture, or rather than a ghetto.

I asked if folks in need of reasonably priced housing were worthy of a good view. I was very specifically not given an answer, and pointed back to the urgent CityHousing shortfall and the need to address it.

Predetermined Outcome

It felt very much like this information meeting was to herd us all into a rigid set of parameters, and to agree with a predetermined outcome. After all, these meetings have been happening for months, and a vision statement is just now being developed, as the City is already drafting the Requests for Expressions of Interest for those lands.

Despite that, what I still heard the majority of people say is that affordable housing needs to be a key focus of our plan for West Harbour, but the meeting was so tightly controlled that this message was diluted as much as possible by the presenters, and very specific questions went unanswered or met with vague assurances.

If you know your history of the North End, it's an ugly succession of shell games and badly-managed redevelopment schemes that have not usually worked out for the most vulnerable residents. (I recommend a trip to Special Collections at the Central Library to read the scrapbooks on North End Urban Renewal in the 1960s and '70s - there's a lot of context to absorb.)

If long-term residents are cynical it's because they've earned it. They've done lots of these sort of kindergarten consultations for decades, and the crayons are wearing down to the nub.

City Holds the Cards

The City holds all the cards here. These are lands owned by the public. In remediating and redeveloping them, we have an opportunity to build communities that are consistent with the many principles, vision statements and questionnaires that City Hall has collected from residents and filed away in unopened drawers for decades.

Our public assets can play a huge role in building communities that serve and house all residents, rather than entrenching a stark class structure in our social infrastructure. There really is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to do things right, but I worry about how that opportunity will be balanced against hungry developers no doubt waiting in the wings.

I recommend checking out a number of Graham Crawford's Facebook posts on the issue, and attending future meetings to bear witness to what's happening - what residents are saying and what representatives are not hearing.

We've learned a lot over the years about the positives and negatives of our current revival, or gentrification, or whatever loaded word you want to use for it. It can't all be back-patting, glossy EcDev brochures and those goddamn Jelly Maps.

We need to make sure that revival has long-term positive outcomes for all residents. Those harbour lands are the end benefit of years of actions supported by the public to reclaim our industrial harbour, at a very high cost to the public, rather than the industrial giants who left behind their mess.

Their redevelopment has to include a maximized social benefit rather than a maximized private profit.

The problem is, I've watched one win out over the other time and time again.

Jelly is a local artist, graphic designer and map maker living in Downtown Hamilton, Ontario in the Central Neighbourhood. Matt is an advocate for built heritage, toxic waste eradication and the revitalization of downtown Hamilton.


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By highasageorgiapine (registered) | Posted March 01, 2016 at 12:41:21

what i find amazing is how astonishingly short sighted this process has become. there is no indication that the immediate sale of these lands will do anything but cover the infrastructure deficits in the short term. my impression is that, a few years down the road, this problem will rear it's ugly head again as there is seemingly no commitment to consistent budget increases to cover increasing infrastructure costs going forward. new buildings don't stay new forever...

i am also disheartened by the complete lack of vision from the city on this file. i remember the early talks about the west harbour redevelopment focusing on low rise, medium density development that would help maintain the neighbourhood character and prevent the issues seen in places like toronto where a wall of highrises blocks the lakeview. it seems the city has decided to throw any strategic planning out the window in favour of a quick buck. it's very sad, this area could have been made into a very charming place. i think of something like fells point in baltimore as a decent comparison to what could work here.

unfortunately, hamilton can't have nice things. i'm sure the city will be satisfied to turn the west harbour lands into a bedroom community for toronto go train commuters while ghettoizing their low income residents as long as the books look good before the next election.

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By CharlesBall (registered) | Posted March 01, 2016 at 13:36:28

I read a lot of complaints. I haven't read a constructive practical suggestion.

Do you want the City to simply renovate the existing properties? If so, where do they get the money?

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By highasageorgiapine (registered) | Posted March 01, 2016 at 14:10:58 in reply to Comment 116692

oh, i don't know. perhaps the city could save the money by reducing expenditures on road expansions in far-flung suburbs, or through development charges, or through a number of other cost saving options that are far more important than many of the expenditures mentioned in the article to ensure that we adequately house the most marginalized and vulnerable people of our society.

the argument the city is making is that they can make money from the firesale to fund new housing. the problem is that this would be a one time cash infusion to build new housing, with no planned increases to address the infrastructure deficit going forward. this is basically kicking the can down the road, while accelerating gentrification and ghettoizing members of our community.

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted March 01, 2016 at 14:15:32

Is the consultants report being dismissed out of hand? No deconstruction of what was in their report? Deloitte has been in the business of financial analysis for decades and they are reputable. It would be interesting to see their breakdown. Or, are their arguments too strong to include in this article?

In my view, as a financial analyst with no experience and dubious reputation, the city is wise to sell these properties and now is as good a time as any. The buildings contain a deficit of $xM and so by selling the city immediately divests themselves of that cost. Land values always go up and no matter when they sell the land will be worth more in the future.

I hear a lot of talk about gentrification of the downtown but I don't see this being an actual problem for a long time. Good to have the discussion now as that's where we are trending to but the downtown has an overabundance of lower income residents. Bringing in some people with money to spend at local shops will only serve to improve the vitality of those neighborhoods.

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By DanJelly (registered) | Posted March 01, 2016 at 15:05:53 in reply to Comment 116696

We have land. We have buildings. We can demonstrate a clear need. I can see little reason not to involve other levels of government, private partners and outside agencies to develop a more sustainable solution that won't just create a big ghetto that will be in crisis in another couple of decades. Yes land values always rise, but the sudden interest in selling these particular lands hastily is curious. Given that Jamesville is next to a GO station that will be fully serviced within 8-10 years, and given that LRT will stop right at the doorstep of this property, it's clear the land values have not peaked.

We have been dealt 4 aces and we're folding, and there's nobody else at the table.

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted March 02, 2016 at 08:10:20 in reply to Comment 116698

Land values will not peak during either of our lifetimes. It does not matter that the GO station is not fully in service yet or that the LRT is still years away. All of these elements are already factored into the pricing in the North End. Look at any real estate listing in the area and it will tout 'close to GO etc etc'. One or two bedroom hovels are selling for over 300k. It is insane. But mostly it is a sellers market. When this city property goes up for sale there will be numerous interested parties. It doesn't matter if they list it for five bucks and a sandwich. There will be competitive bids coming in from all sides I'm sure - way above what they are asking.

And where in all this is a big ghetto being created? Brand new affordable housing (hopefully) built with modern materials and energy efficiency? I don't see where the ghetto bit comes in here?

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted March 02, 2016 at 09:37:37 in reply to Comment 116707

Property prices rise (and sometimes fall) at different rates at different times in response to various stimuli. It's not a matter of whether prices "have peaked", but how fast they are increasing. All the evidence suggests that prices will increase especially quickly in the next decade in this part of Hamilton.

In Vancouver the average house price is over $2.5 million. Toronto prices are still more than double Hamilton prices. This suggests Hamilton has plenty of "catching up" to do in real estate prices.

$300k for a hovel is nothing: in Vancouver a tear-down worse than anything in the North End sells for $2.5 million!

Leasing, rather than selling, the land is one way for the City to avoid selling too low and take advantage of future price increases.

Or they could develop the land themselves, like Vancouver did developing a mix of affordable housing and coops in the 1970s with the South Shore of False Creek.

Or they could mix options for Pier 8 and the other lands (like Jamesville): some land sold to private developers, some leased, some developed by the city, and add inclusionary zoning to require some of the private units to be affordable. Even as little as 10% would make a difference if some of the other (City) developments had larger proportions. Maybe partner with the feds or province.

Vancouver is now trying to decide whether to sell the south shore of False Creek land now, at vastly higher values than they could have got 40 years ago (taking into account general inflation) or re-develop at higher densities.

On the other hand, the general opinion is that Vancouver made a terrible deal when they sold the north shore of False Creek to Lee Kai Shing in the 1980s for about $200 million. The City was responsible for cleaning up the toxic industrial land and Lee Kai Shing ended up building much higher density than planned, which vastly increased the value of the land.

Cities can take a long view when it comes to land.

The "ghetto" label is because the plan is to concentrate all affordable housing from 500 MacNab and JamesVille and 170 more units in 400 total units at Barton-Tiffany rather than integrating affordable housing in mixed communities, or having smaller scale developments.

The experience of the last 50-60 years is that massive social housing developments do generally turn into poverty ghettos with a lot of social problems. That's why most other cities are moving to mixed developments, sometimes through inclusionary zoning and sometimes through private-public partnerships, or simply through city-led developments.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2016-03-02 09:58:53

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted March 02, 2016 at 11:36:10 in reply to Comment 116709

But really, does it make sense to second guess decisions like this that were made 35 years ago? Is Hamilton supposed to wait 40 years before the North End sees any redevelopment? I wonder what that message would do to prices in the area? Perhaps encouraging investment and development now will provide impetus for surrounding areas to improve.

I agree that the affordable housing should be spread around - and I would also anticipate a hundred NIMBY battles in the process.

Let's not encourage the city 'to develop it themselves', please. Have them work on wiping and tying their own shoes first.

Comment edited by ergopepsi on 2016-03-02 11:39:04

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 02, 2016 at 13:25:26 in reply to Comment 116712

does it make sense to second guess decisions like this that were made 35 years ago?

What makes sense is to learn what we can from those decisions so that we can make the best decisions in our own present context.

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted March 02, 2016 at 13:46:32 in reply to Comment 116718

Even if your take-away from this is that you have to wait 40 years for the property to really be worth something? We have to start somewhere. If everyone sits on their investments waiting for it to increase in value nothing will happen. The dam has to break at some point.

Are we certain that a private developer will not build something good? Maybe apartments ranging from affordable to high end with commercial on the ground floor. Maybe a bit of green space as well?

Get a good development in there. Something that creates a buzz and the whole area will start to flourish. What I learned from the Vancouver example is that if a developer can get land at a good price he/she might build something on it and, chances are, 40 years later it'll be worth 50 times as much.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted March 02, 2016 at 13:50:48 in reply to Comment 116719

The '40 years' referred to the publicly developed South Shore of False Creek, which has been wildly successful and extremely popular with residents in the intervening 40 years. It didn't sit empty: it was all developed (to medium density) in the mid 1970s.

People knew that Li Ka-Shing had got an amazing sweetheart deal soon after the land was sold in 1988. And the Province lost between $150 and $290 million on the deal (not including the potential loss of selling low).

Which was the better approach?

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2016-03-02 13:52:23

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted March 02, 2016 at 12:08:39 in reply to Comment 116712

I definitely agree that development should start sooner rather than later, but that the development vision should not be driven by the desire to get some emergency funding to solve a short term cash crisis at CHH.

Again, there are examples of public developments that do more than just sell off land at firesale prices. Even Vancouver insisted on a lot of public amenities in the north shore of False Creek.

In fact, I would like to see higher densities than 4-8 stories and a more urban approach to design. I'd also like to see the City put some teeth into the Vision desire for 'high quality design' and construction. How are they actually going to ensure this?

The impression I got from the meeting and the Deloitte report is that the entire process is driven by the urgency to extract whatever cash they can from selling off the three properties as soon as possible. In fact, this was the remit given to Deloitte.

I can see why Council is attracted by the simplicity of having private developers take over all the waterfront development so the city can can concentrate on putting up to 400 affordable units all on single site at Barton-Tiffany.

It's simple, it doesn't cost any tax money (in the short term) and it might provide extra affordable housing.

But it is a very short term solution that doesn't actually address the roots of the CHH funding crisis, the money wouldn't come close to covering the cost of the new developments, and the City loses some very valuable real estate that the public has increased in value through GO, LRT etc.

At the meeting Councillor Collins made it seem as if the only alternatives were either to sell off the land and build some new housing at Barton-Tiffany (how the total cost would be funded was unclear), or that CHH would go bankrupt and 500 MacNab and Jamesville would eventually be unusable and Barton-Tiffany would be undeveloped. He implied that those skeptical of this deal were happy to let the needy stay in substandard accommodation.

But this is a false choice. There are (more complex) solutions that would provide a much better outcome for the community, and left unsaid was why more tax dollars couldn't be put into CHH or why partnerships with private charities, developers and other levels of government were not even considered.

The Deloitte report actually said that the Cities are the best at doing affordable housing developments and since the pier 8 land is currently unoccupied and the Jamesville and 500 MacNab sites are already social housing I doubt NIMBY would be much of an issue. Buyers would know what they are getting into and the other properties would be developed into mixed income communities.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2016-03-02 12:21:35

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted March 02, 2016 at 12:52:20 in reply to Comment 116714

Another option, never addressed, is that the City could borrow money to build affordable housing in the short term, and pay that money back using increased tax assessments from mixed income developments at 500 MacNab, Jamesville, Pier 8 and Barton Tiffany in the longer term.

The market value portions of these developments would pay a lot in taxes, and a lease model could allow the city to sell off land in the future to help pay off debts. I'm not an expert in real estate developments, but surely municipal borrowing could be part of the package.

This is one way to address Collins point about CHH being 'land rich but cash poor'. Businesses and individuals borrow against assets all the time and the City is well-placed to get excellent terms.

Given that interest rates are at historic lows, the land will rapidly increase in value and that demand for Hamilton property is rising it is a mystery why this option was not even considered.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted March 02, 2016 at 10:12:53 in reply to Comment 116709

I just double-checked, and the expo 86 north shore False Creek lands were sold for $320 million for 204 acres in 1988 and the right to develop 12 million square feet of residential and commercial. The cost of remediation, paid by provincial government, was estimated at $75 million and the government is responsible for any cost over-runs.

Again, the feeling is that the City (and Province) made a bad deal by selling off 204 acres to one developer for such a low price (and taking responsibility for the clean up).

Note that when the land was sold Lee-Kai Shing had zoning for 1400 units. There are now 20,000 residents in these lands. Clearly, the city could have charged a lot more, or sold the land progressively, or leased it, or developed parts themselves and captured more of the value.

The province " lost between $150 and $290 million in carrying charges, construction and clean-up costs " on the deal and the cost to Lee-Kai Shing was only $10 per developable square foot.

“By the time the (Offi cial Development Plan for Concord Pacifi c Place) was approved, prices in the downtown core had nearly doubled and Li’s 91 acres were worth more than $700 million. True, Li has to put in roads, sidewalks and sewers… And he has to pay for parks, a walkway, community centre, library, eight day care centre and other community facilities (which will make the property even more valuable). But he has already earned a paper profi t of nearly $500 million, probably much more since there is nothing stopping Li from asking for, and receiving, higher densities down the road…” (Gutstein 1990, 137, cited in Beazley 132).

And Li did indeed get ask for and receive the higher densities he wanted!

This should be a cautionary tale for Hamilton in its efforts at waterfront re-development of industrial land (including Barton-Tiffany)!

Is Hamilton even going to insist on the sorts of community amenities Vancouver insisted Li provide? Are they going to make the developer pay for infrastructure (roads sewers electrical etc.) like Vancouver did?

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2016-03-02 10:16:37

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By housing complexes (anonymous) | Posted March 02, 2016 at 09:07:24 in reply to Comment 116707

The ghetto comes in from a wealth of experience in this city and every other one that builds housing projects exclusively for low income residents. It always ends badly. We need to find a way to encourage healthy mixed neighbourhoods not perpetuate an unhealthy mix of low income housing that exasperates drug and crime problems that are disproportionate in that demographic. Simply shooing the poor away in a corner increases poor education results as well only piling on to the problem

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By How About Ancaster? (anonymous) | Posted March 03, 2016 at 23:29:53 in reply to Comment 116708

How about trying to mandate diversity by producing median ideal income mixes and making development approvals contingent on them? Maybe it's time to ensure some multi-res geared to lower income units land in Ancaster and other Hamilton upper middle class ghettos. It could do a lot to inspire empathy and better outcomes for the folks allowed the units.

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By Northender (anonymous) | Posted March 01, 2016 at 15:04:39

As one who has attended each West Harbour mtg and was involved in the GO Stn stakeholder discussions and many other Setting Sail related consultations etc over the past decade or more I'd like to give my impressions.
Feb's visioning exercise really seemed to me to be initiated by the public at the Jan mtg...they were asking about the vision, the staff didn't have the previous several decades of visioning in front of them at that mtg, so they brought a summary and reminder(all which were approved by Council) to the Feb mtg, and quite rightly didn't just present all those past and recent vision statements fait d'accompli, but opened it up for comments (which are unlikely to be incorporated, unfortunately, see above re Council).
Rather than tightly controlled I'd say the meeting lacked focus and structure.By the time we got to the Deloitte recommendations we were asked where we wanted to go from there on, and time and focus seemed limited.
I interpreted that the sale of veey valuable and 'ready' Pier8 first will allow SOME of Barton Tiffany to be built to accommodate the remaining folks currently in HHC on the two West Harbour sites in question, THEN, those two HHC sites get redeveloped, probably, and hopefully with a percentage of 'rent geared to income' or some other model of 'affordable' housing (to accommodate the increased numbers we've asked for) as well as market units. In the end, 3 of the 4 sites will have mixed housing in different proportions and configurations.

Wishful thinking perhaps, but even though I've not crunched the numbers (units needed short term) it seems logical to me and not necessarily ghettoizing ....

The prob with this timing of course is the unknowns re the costs and difficulties re the pollution remediation in Barton Tiffany which could hold the whole thing up and cost a prohibitive amt.(why don't they know this already?...or maybe they do, but this is confidential so as not to prejudice potential market unit developers for the site??) It would seem prudent to wait on selling Pier8 until the issues with BT are clearer.

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By Selway (registered) | Posted March 01, 2016 at 22:02:26 in reply to Comment 116697

Yes, I was at the meeting and have attended many other Setting Sail outings as well, and what Northender describes is what I thought I saw. The Deloitte report was preliminary and hedged with lots of limitations, and simply answered what they had been asked. Obviously this whole question of how to include affordability among the other elements of the eventual building program needs a lot more discussion. What was unclear to me was how much room the city wants to allow for that discussion. The councillors were certainly pushing their land sale for re-capitalization very hard, and are preparing to bring a motion to council fairly soon.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted March 01, 2016 at 15:21:22

There are very good arguments for why the land in question will increase in value dramatically (more than other land) in the next decade (LRT, GO, serviced waterfront land, influx of new residents, renaissance of Hamilton downtown and North End). This is not the usual situation of land value increasing incrementally.

The funding crisis in CHH and redevelopment of Pier 8 and Barton-Tiffany are two separate issues.

It might seem that selling North End land will solve the CHH funding crisis, but it clearly won't go very far.

At the meeting Councillor Collins claimed that it costs $200k to build a one-bedroom affordable housing unit. Since they want to build 400 units at Barton-Tiffany the $20-$40 million would cover much less than 1/4 to 1/2 the cost (since most units will not be one bedroom). So this doesn't even cover the cost of the new units they want to build, let alone transition costs for residents, remediation costs for the land or ongoing maintenance costs for the CHH housing stock.

Another option would be to enact inclusionary zoning and increase densities on Pier 8 to incorporate 15-25% affordable housing into the Pier 8 or other re-developments (Jamesville, 500 MacNab lands).

The consultants admitted this had been successful in Toronto, Mississauga and Halton and other Canadian cities but noted it hadn't been tried yet in Hamilton and probably wouldn't work because of low land values (based on historic transactions in the North End).

Again, they are discounting the probable steep rise in land value even though a Deloitte consultant present at the meeting told me in private that they know the $20-$40 million estimate is low and they won't have a good idea of the value until they put the property on the market. He agreed that the land will rapidly rise in value.

As far as I know, the option of the city leasing the land to developers (instead of selling) or developing the land into a mix of private/affordable themselves or in partnership with a developer was not seriously considered.

It is never a good idea to make long-term, irreversible strategic decisions to solve a short-term funding emergency!

Another factor is that the Federal and Provincial governments have signalled that they are finally willing to get back into the social housing business. This is another reason it would be wrong to make irreversible decisions about valuable city assets right now.

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By Sad Joke (anonymous) | Posted March 01, 2016 at 19:40:06

I'm was born and raised in Hamilton, and in all that time the North End has been nothing but a dump. "Affordable housing" is a joke....if you give something for free, and there are zero expectations for anyone else, but you, to take care of it, then guess what.....the people who got the something for free, won't take care of it.

You want to redevelop the land, but you want to dictate to private enterprise how that redevelopment should take place....what a joke.

If you sell the land, then don't expect the buyer to spend tons of money, only to have you dictate to them how they should develop that land. And why the outcry against development....what's wrong Hamiltonians, you want to be like Toronto, but don't want to do what it takes to get there? I'm not in favour of high rise condos either, but at least I know that the tax base will be much better from that type of development rather than the current base that lives in that area.

And no, I don't think the poor should be shunned.....but at the same time, if we are not taking care of them now (or apparently ever) then perhaps it is time to move on and start fresh somewhere else.

This city is a sad joke. Look at Burlington, Oakville, Mississauga & TO....then compare them to Hamilton. Hamilton wants to be better, but there is nobody strong enough to move things forward. If we don't develop those lands, then we might as well not finish that Go Train station stop....people will be too scared to get on or off in that part of the city.

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By Nor'ender (anonymous) | Posted March 02, 2016 at 07:46:39 in reply to Comment 116700

I gotta call BS, you sound like a scared suburban stereotype who has never seen the north end in person. I've lived here all my life and it's got it's ups and downs but it's never been a "dump".

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By Selway (registered) | Posted March 01, 2016 at 22:21:30

Editor's note: this comment has been published as an article.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2016-03-02 15:04:01

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted March 02, 2016 at 12:56:13

Well its quite clear that the city of Hamilton and CHH is caught in the same trap that most municipalities are. Their insight and operational rules are designed have view what the value of assets, in this case land and or housing units is currently, not what it could be after improvements like LRT and new GO Stations are built. Rules for these types of operations for municipal organizations are specific and clear they can't speculate on what will be. Therefore they often undervalue their assets, they are just not allowed to say were going to value it higher because these improvements and changes in building styles mean this is now more valuable, they legally have to provide evidence of this. This type of evidence is quite difficult and time consuming to bring forward and prove. Individuals and developers for that matter, don't have this limitation on them when they sell assets like homes and land. The whole private system of land development is based on the fact that asset value is tied to what will or could be, not necessarily what it is right now. Municipalities and their organizations like HCC, will always have one hand tied behind their back in this fight because they are legally required to look in the present only, not necessarily what will happen to the value of something in the future.

Hamilton also has a few other issues hampering it. The lack of development has produced a wide gap in the absolute value of land here compared to even other municipalities geographically close by. My sister's house in Whitby can be sold for just its tax value and she could probably easily buy 2, maybe even 3 homes in Hamilton's North End. This by its very nature creates a vacuum sucking prices upward, as long as improvements occur. On top of that, the basic dynamic that has existed in North America regarding how and what is value in developed land is fundamentally changing. The suburbs were the preferred place to live compared to neighborhoods in the core of the city, for too many reasons to get into here. However, that is now changing and in most cases turning right over on its head. Inner city neighborhoods are now the desired place in many cities causing quite a headache, especially in the housing development industry. Hamilton is just relatively late in experiencing this phenomena.

The lack of belief that this is actually occurring, a kind of inner core urban value denial movement, has taken hold in many suburban dwellers and their politicians because it runs absolutely counter intuitively to the perceived value of the dominance of the traditional suburb, (like a form of climate change denier). This change or in some cities, an outright reversal in the value of city core land in comparison to the suburb as well as the associated change in lifestyle values connected with it, will force a big change in how certain places, like how your harbor lands are developed. That change forces a need to severely modify our approach to developing so called, "affordable housing".

For example, section 37 money that municipalities use to get stuff from developers so they can build beyond what the limiting zoning rules permit, helps equalize or help nullify the advantage a private developers have over the municipality due to the operational limits forced on them by their enabling legislation and how they must view relative land and asset value. Unfortunately, it is now becoming the rule not the exception it was originally intended to be. That being said, municipalities have had varying degrees of success when applying these rules and it does help somewhat, equal out the advantage, the private market has over municipal governments. Cities like Hamilton, are still playing "catch up" when dealing with the wants and desires of new and existing core urban dwellers vs. the process on how they value and develop new or reused land parcels in the core areas of the city.

There is a sense of frustration for everyone involved because of the multiple differences regarding how the various players in Hamilton view how this core area land should be developed. For example, certain suburban players deny this property has actual value as housing and view it purely as a simple transaction or purchase from one owner to a buyer, just like the suburbs. Certain long time residents of the core see this as selling out the population who already lives their and to somewhat fight the force of change these new properties will bring. Still others see it as a possible improvement to a undervalued place as long as, the important local common social beliefs and benefits around what is good development, are maintained. Still an other group, sees it as way to make a lot of money, pure and simple, so everyone else, get out of the bloody way and don't whine to me about community values, this is commerce! The city of Hamilton has to now suddenly be the arbiter in a dance of values & beliefs on what does or does not make a good place. I hope the City of Hamilton's actual government and staff have the appreciation and sophistication to handle this new reality in the core of the city.

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By CharlesBall (registered) | Posted March 02, 2016 at 13:20:00

I have this to say about taxes.

I bought my home 20 years ago and my taxes were $1800 a year. They are now over $10,000.00 (a 700,000.00 assessment.) I can assure you the home is not lavish. (My parents in their 80's live in the Main and Sherman area and their assessment is 600,000) I hope the assessors are correct and I can sell my home for what they say it is worth.

We pay among the highest taxes in the world. I want to bold the word world.

Our province is the highest indebted non-sovereign nation in the world. Again emphasize world.

We have a $3 billion infrastructure deficit in this City.

These are facts.

I read somewhere that approximately 60% of our taxes go to pay the salaries and benefits of first responders. I am not sure if that is a fact or if it is low.

I will not be able to retire in Hamilton and own my home. I do not have the retirement income to pay my taxes.

I do not want the city to raise my taxes or borrow any money to pay for public housing.

Comment edited by CharlesBall on 2016-03-02 13:32:11

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By city renting (anonymous) | Posted March 03, 2016 at 08:19:54

get rid of low income housing complexes completely. they are a horrible way of solving the problem. means tested rent subsidies would go way further to helping low income families rent wherever they like

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By Hear Hear (anonymous) | Posted March 03, 2016 at 23:33:53 in reply to Comment 116737

Hear, hear. There are definitely policy alternatives that should be looked at.

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By RobF (registered) | Posted March 04, 2016 at 14:33:32 in reply to Comment 116799

Two words: market failure.

Rent vouchers only work temporarily where you have excess supply. The private sector by definition doesn't provide "affordable" housing. It provides profitable housing.

The construction of public housing, as well as limited dividend housing, greatly increased the supply of affordable market and non-market housing in the 1950s and 60s.

It's no secret in housing policy circles that very little dedicated rental housing, nevermind low-cost rental housing, has been built since the mid-1970s. Building condos became more attractive from a capital turnover and risk perspective and rent-controls made rental buildings less appealing.

Giving means-tested rent vouchers without addressing supply (and discrimination) isn't a long-term policy alternative ...

Comment edited by RobF on 2016-03-04 14:34:39

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